All photos by Reem Saad
Baba ganoush tuna toro, anyone?
A new restaurant in Qatar has opened this month with a unique offering, selling sushi rolls inspired by Arabic dishes such as chicken mansaf, falafel and lamb maklouba.
Cactus Senshi soft-launched three weeks ago at Al Shoumoukh Towers off of C-Ring Road and Al Sadd St.
So far, the eatery has attracted hundreds of customers keen to check out its more unusual food items.
‘They thought we were crazy’
Created under Al Sedriyah Hospitality, the restaurant is among the first in the country – and the world – to serve Arabic sushi, its co-founder Hassan Al Mannai said.
Speaking to Doha News, he said the restaurant aims to ensure diners enjoy sushi while also feeling more at home and being in touch with Arabic culture.
Al-Mannai said he and his co-founder Mark Boreham developed the concept over the last two years, even though the idea was initially met with great skepticism.
“When we started telling people we were going to create Arabic sushi, they thought we were crazy.
They told us it was impossible to manage. We told them we will have machboos, falafel, biryani and mansaf sushi. No one believed us. We faced a lot of difficulties,” Al Mannai said.
He added that his development team took a year to work out the menu, “tasting, reducing or adding spices, flavors and other ingredients, changing the sauces until we reached the perfect recipes.”
Cactus Senshi mascot
To go along with their new concept, the team created a character to be the face of the restaurant: Cactus Senshi, or “warrior” in Japanese.
According to the restaurant owners, the mascot represents a Japanese sushi masterchef (a cactus) who embarks on a journey at sea to “reignite his passion for his beloved sushi.”
Along the way, Senshi’s boat malfunctions off the coast of North Africa.
There, he meets a Mexican cactus farmer who offers to help Senshi repair his boat under one condition: that Senshi look after his cactus farm and teach him how to make sushi.
The cactus farmer, Miguel, was intrigued by the dish but questioned why only raw fish was used.
Both began exploring new concepts by mixing local Arabic flavors and combining them with Mexican spices, eventually creating several new types of sushi.
After Senshi’s boat is finally repaired and ready to set sail for home, he vowed to keep his promise to Miguel by creating sushi dishes that embraced both local Arabic and Mexican flavors.
In addition to Arabic sushi, the restaurant offers many traditional rolls as well as sashimi and tempura, and some Mexican side dishes like rice.
Prices average about QR60 per roll of eight pieces.
The restaurant also serves bubble tea and its desserts include a date cake and a pistachio cake with Snickers.
So far, its best sellers have included the falafel-spiced sushi rolls, Mexican rice and the passion fruit crème brûlée.
Overall, response has been upbeat, though some customers have suggested the food be served hot instead of cold, Al Mannai said.
“People here respected what we are doing. They come understanding how hard it was to create all this from scratch. We have amazing feedback, but we strive to get better because we believe everything can be better.”
Sedriyah Hospitality will soon be opening two other restaurants – 360 Grille with an American concept, and La Marans, an entirely new concept that will feature both French and Indochinese cuisines.
Al Mannai said he has received offers to franchise Cactus Senshi in other Gulf countries, but said he will will only consider partnering with those who have actually tried his food.
“Qatar is the first home for Cactus Senshi. We want to prove ourselves here first, then we will expand outside of Doha,” he added.
Currently, Cactus Senshi is open daily from noon to 4pm and from 6pm to 11:30pm. Free valet parking is available.